I was furious.
Billy and I had just had a particularly tense custody exchange and while we didn’t talk much, he’d managed to push every single one of my buttons. Every look, every sideline glance, every loud “your mother…” spoken to the kids landed just as it was intended, and I lost my cool.
I parked my car in the grocery store lot, and walked in, fuming. I ran into a friend while angrily selecting a cantaloupe. She asked how I was, and over the melons I detailed every single thing Billy had done that morning to spark my temper.
She listened, and when I finished looked at me thoughtfully.
“Is that your headline for the day?” she asked.
I wasn’t sure what to say. The question startled me. Usually, my friends commiserated with me, shaking their heads sadly or agreed that Billy was way out of line or expressed sympathy for our caught-in-the-middle kids. Usually they had something useful to add. I stammered a response and awkwardly moved on to the avocados.
Her question stayed with me for the rest of the day. I thought about it as Lottie and I walked home from the bus stop. I thought about it as I had dinner with my mother. I thought about it as I read my book late into the night with my dog snuggled at my feet.
I woke up the next morning with her pesky inquiry still tugging at the corners of my mind. Frustrated, I decided to answer it, hoping once I completed the ridiculous exercise I could stop thinking about it.
I thought like a journalist about the day before. Did the headline “My Ex Picked a Fight at Pickup” capture my day?
I nearly laughed out loud. That headline didn’t capture the story of my day at all. The fight with Billy was one part of my day, the most annoying, to be sure, but it didn’t capture the whole of my day, as a headline is meant to summarize a story. That headline ignored all the good packed into the day before: time with my family and great progress on a project at work and a quiet night spent exactly as I chose it.
I kept thinking of headlines for the day, and came up with “Today I Found Balance Between Home and Work, Kids and Me.” Yes, it sounded (and felt) hokey. Yes, the exercise was contrived. Yes, I felt a little foolish. And? It shifted my perspective.
Headlines are powerful things. Glance at the news stacked at check out or on your phone and in an instant you form an opinion about the state of the world. Think about the last conversation you had with a friend and what her headline was for that conversation. Her choice, conscious or not, likely shapes your opinion of her situation. We form opinions quickly, and facts don’t matter much. We look at how someone has summarized the events and accept that line as an accurate reflection of what’s happening around us.
My friend’s question helped me realize this power, both in how I was presenting our family’s situation to others and, much more importantly, how I was framing it for myself. More often than I’d like to admit, my headlines were focused on the struggle I’d faced that day: the big fight with Billy, the worry about how I would find my way as a divorce mom, the panic about what impact our separation would have on our children.
Headlining my day focused on my struggle rather than my successes robbed me of energy. It often focused my attention on things way outside of my control. It caused me to get sucked into a swirling vortex of negative emotions, often carrying out long in-my-head fights with my ex. It made the divorce drama never-ending and me crazy.
Slowly, I began to ask myself about my headline for the day. It felt funny and awkward and super self-help-y. I did it anyway.
When I found myself caught in a gossipy conversation with a girlfriend about my ex or the end of my marriage, I asked myself “is this what I want my friend to walk away thinking is the biggest, most important part of my life? Is this how I want to spend my time with my friend? Is this where I want to focus my energy?” The answer was almost always no.
Years later, asking myself about the day’s headline is a habit. When I get caught up in our blended family’s dynamics or distracted by a teenager’s scowl or triggered by interactions with an ex, I remind myself that the day is much bigger than this moment. Choosing my headline shifts my perspective and gives me control. My time and attention follow my headline, and I know from experience the power that comes from investing both wisely.
Long story short? I was wrong. It turns out, standing over the cantaloupes years ago, my friend actually had something very useful to add. It just took a bit to sink in.
Want some help designing your daily headlines? I created a tool based on the process I used way back when. Click here for a free, simple worksheet to get started. Remember, if you’ve already subscribed, you’re all set! Just visit the link in the weekly email and the worksheet is yours!